In the modern age of instant everything, it is heartening to know that there are still things that can’t be rushed. And they tend to be the finer things in life, says Marcus Janssen.
According to geographer David Harvey’s theory of time-space compression, the digital revolution has made our world smaller, not just spatially (i.e. we can now get from A to B in a fraction of the time that it took our great grandparents), but also temporally. What may have taken perhaps a whole week to achieve 50 years ago, can now be done in a nanosecond, thanks to the internet. Productivity is up, free time is down, and there’s nothing you can do about it. My grandmother used to tell me that patience is a virtue and that good things come to those who wait – not any more; in the iGeneration, good things come to those who hussle. Tomorrow may be too late.
Okay, that may be the case if you aspire to be the next social media sensation or YouTube star, and yes, Harry Styles and his 12-year-old X-Factor cohorts might have made more money in their two-minute careers than the rest of us are likely to make before our 65th birthdays, but gladly, there are still certain things that can’t be rushed. And they tend to be the finer things in life – single malt whisky, double rifles, and a slow roasted leg of lamb, for instance. And art. Proper art can’t be rushed. And that’s unquestionably one of the reasons why we place such a high value on it.
“In today’s day and age, there just isn’t the time to stop and really look at things; we’re on the go all the time,” says Glyn Rushworth (51), a Lincolnshire-based painter who specialises in realistic oil-on-canvas landscapes and classic sporting scenes. For Glyn, detail is everything. And detail doesn’t come easy.
“But of course being an artist is all about looking at things, observing the world around you and gaining a proper understanding of your subjects, their nuances and subtleties. So, as an artist, having your time compressed is like trying to fit a big landscape onto a small canvas – it simply doesn’t work.”
And when your chosen subject is Mother Nature herself, that means working at her pace and at her rhythm. “First, you need a photograph to work from,”explains Glyn. “But in order to capture the right image, you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time, in the right conditions. Mother Nature operates at her own pace, and she is unpredicatble, so you’ve just got to accept that.”
Because Glyn’s paintings are so detailed, the quality of the image that he works from is key, so he has invested a substantial amount of money in photography and computer equipment and has also attended a number of photography workshops with the likes of Alan Ward. Once he has captured or sourced the right image, he may then make minor adjustments to it in Lightroom or Photoshop before displaying it in his studio on a special high-resolution screen which has been calibrated to display colours as accurately as possible.
Then it’s a case of sketching out a basic outline onto the canvas (using thinned oil paint for the background) and separately on a piece of paper (in pencil) for any main subjects such as a bird or deer.
A thin layer of paint is then applied to the back of the sketch before lightly mounting it (paint-side down) onto the canvas, after finalising its position within the composition. Glyn will then lightly run over the sketch/outline with a pencil, thereby transferring a faint paint outline of the image onto the canvas.
“It would of course be a lot quicker to simply sketch directly onto the canvas,” he adds, “but graphite leaves a sheen on the canvas which makes the initial coat of oil paint dirty and slippery to use, and you can see the pencil-work through oil paint.”
Glyn then starts to paint in earnest, focussing on the sky and background first, followed by a very rough foreground. “Once that is dry, I will gradually work my way forward, building towards the foreground and the main focal point(s). This is a basic principle of all landscape painting, working from the background to the foreground, as it gives the painting depth and perspective.”
All in all, Glyn spends up to 200 hours behind his easel before he is satisfied with a painting, although I get the impression he is never actually completely satisfied, the sign of a true perfectionist. “In truth, it can take years to create a painting, but its effect on the viewer is immediate which can give the impression that art emerges from the soul of the artist, or that it is effortless,” he says. “In fact, art is more often than not the result of hard-won struggles with many problems, some mundane, others difficult and frustrating. This process does not involve memorising rules or techniques and the artist develops a painting by continually answering questions such as ‘What makes form dimensional?’ ‘How can air be represented?’ ‘How does light flow?’ Each painting creates questions and has answers which apply not only to that specific picture, but to all pictures.”
That Glyn is talented is plain to see, but he is adamant that art is more nurture than nature; you’ve got to work at it, he tells me.
“When I first started painting properly, about 20 years ago, I bought a book about legendary wildlife artist David Shepherd and discovered that when he first started out, one of his first paintings (of some seagulls over water) was slated by art critics, one of them describing the gulls as ‘birds of dubious proportions’, or something along those lines.
I thought to myself, if one of the greatest wildlife artists of all time had to really perservere to master his craft, then perhaps there is hope for me!”
From engineer to artist
As is the case with so many talented artists, Glyn’s career path hasn’t been a conventional or straightforward one. There was no art school, no apprenticeship, and no mentor. And rather than chasing his artistic dreams from a young age, it has taken him almost three decades to begin to fully realise his potential. But even now, he is still filled with self-doubt.
Glyn grew up in a small mining village just north of Doncaster in Yorkshire, and it was generally assumed that he would follow in his father’s footsteps. “My father was a coal miner, and I felt I had three career choices,” he explains. “I could either go down the pit like him, get a job working for the railways, or work in a factory.”
Fortunately, serendipity played its part to alter that course... One day, shortly after completing his GCSEs, Glyn was in Doncaster when the heavens opened. “I found myself in the local RAF careers office taking refuge from the rain and having a conversation with an officer who recommended that I take an aptitude test,” he explains. “And that’s what I did. I was told that I could go into whatever trade I wanted, so I decided to join as a radar technician.”
At the age of 17, Glyn was posted to RAF Binbrook in Lincolnshire – which was then home to 11 Squadron (English Electric Lightnings) – where stayed for the next 12 years. Although Glyn loved his time in the RAF, by the time he was made redundant in 1995 as part of a RAF streamlining exercise known as ‘Options for Change’, he was already on the path to becoming an artist, even if he didn’t realise it at the time.
From a very young age, Glyn had always painted and drawn, but it was never with a view to doing it professionally – he just enjoyed it. And it was intermittent; he would leave a piece for months at a time and then come back to it. But it was about 20 years ago when he was still in the RAF that he started to take his art a little more seriously. “Initially, I just doodled and experimented with pencils, pastels and watercolours,” he explains. “I then started doing technical illustrations with an airbush,” he adds.
Glyn’s early paintings and drawings were technical/ mechanical in nature, as you might expect – aircraft, predominantly. But he soon got disenchanted with the airbrush as it relies on masks and is incredibly precise, so he found it limiting in terms of its scope for creativity.
Soon enough, he started to experiment with oils, and that is when things began to change. At first he struggled with them and found them frustrating, but he kept reminding himself of David Shepherd’s story and didn’t give up. And before long, he had fallen in love with the medium.
“The more I painted with oils, the more I found myself harking back to my childhood, to memories of bucolic rural scenes, rolling farmscapes, rivers, hedgerows, horses, hounds, gundogs and wildlife. That love of the countryside never leaves you,” he adds.
Glyn’s father taught him to fish as a child, and a neighbour took him beating and shooting on the weekends. “I just love the open spaces, the peace and tranquillity, and the interaction between people, dogs and the environment,” he adds. “But more than anything, I love the tradition, the heritage and the sense of community and belonging. And that is exactly what I try to capture and convey with my paintings.
“And that is exactly why I love to paint; it is a form of escapism, it takes me to these places that I so love. I lose myself in them completely, and I have no concept of time while I am there.”
That is the thing about Glyn’s art – it is calm and serene, as if its pace and tempo are set to Mother Nature’s clock. It draws you in and holds you there, offering you a moment’s respite from your overflowing inbox and non-stop social media feed. And as far as I am concerned, you can’t put a price on that. Yes, it’s heartening to know that there are still things that can’t be rushed.